The good folks at Merriam Webster’s must surely not watch ESPN. Or perhaps they must not have updated their dictionary since the 19th century. Why else would Webster’s define sportsmanship as :
: conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport
Graciousness ? Respect ? Are these the chief attributes we admire in our sportspersons these days? Not if you ask the New York Times.
The Times has a long and adulatory, almost adoring article on Bart Scott, a linebacker for the New York Jets. A linebacker in NFL football is supposed to stop the opposing team from scoring points mainly by tackling the runningback and stopping his run, and by stopping the quarterback from passing the ball by “sacking” him.
Is Bart Scott good at any of this? Has he made any big plays? Does he have any notable achievements on the field?
The article doesn’t say, and perhaps the author thinks such questions are irrelevant. What makes Bart Scott special, as the New York Times tells you breathlessly, is that he is the last word in trash talking. (Trash talking, as you can imagine, is the equivalent of sledging in cricket).
The NYT article is entirely about Bart Scott’s wonderful ability to trash talk. It tries, in all of 2 pages, to answer the all-important question – “What makes Bart Scott such a good trash talker?”
Scott uses a three-step trash-talk template. He starts with research. He scours ESPN, Google and scouting reports, which include pictures. He wants to understand the opponents he will talk to, understand what angers them, what makes them tick. He looks for police incidents, problems with wives or girlfriends, expanding stomachs, funny faces.
In next week’s paper, I’m hoping to see an admiring article on Serena Williams’ ability to threaten bodily harm to line judges. We might find out, for instance, whether she bones up on abuses in French and Aussie slang.